Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

The Martian

Just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Good Lord it’s a lot of fun.

Book cover: The Martian During this year’s Hugo Awards foofaraw, there was some disappointment expressed that this book was not on the final ballot. That was not because Hugo voters were out to snub a book full of the good old stuff and lacking in social justice virtue, or whatever — it was simply ineligible. The Martian was first self-published electronically in 2011. But don’t weep overmuch for Andy Weir: after brisk online sales, both traditional publishing and Hollywood started paying attention. He got a six-figure advance for the hardcover edition, which came out in February 2014, and the movie adaptation comes out this November.

And it’s not hard to see why. The book chronicles a lone astronaut’s struggle to survive on the Martian surface after an accident leaves him stranded there, and the attempts to rescue him. It’s chock-a-block with technical detail — Weir did a lot of research, and the Mars program in the book reflects a lot of the proposals I’ve seen — and MacGyveresque solutions to problems. It’s written in a light, breezy and entertaining (if not necessarily felicitous) manner. Characterization and prose quality are not among its virtues — it’s basically an Analog story without all the Analog baggage — but Weir manages to maintain real tension while interleaving it with some legitimately funny moments; in many ways it manages to out-Scalzi John Scalzi at his own game. It’s a fun book — just what I needed right now.

The Martian
by Andy Weir
Crown, February 2014
Buy at Amazon: Canada, U.K., USA (paperback) | Goodreads | LibraryThing

Clichéa

Clichéa

A Redditor called Sarithus has created a map of Clichéa, “a map based on fantasy tropes that also pokes a little fun at unoriginal map makers.” Like others of its kind, it hearkens back, probably undeliberately, to early modern maps of Cockaigne and Schlaraffenland and other satirical maps. Cartographer’s Guild thread, Reddit thread.

Previously: The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need.

Google Map Maker Program Suspended

Google is temporarily suspending Map Maker, its tool allowing user contributions to Google Maps, until they fix their edit moderation system. Auto-approvals of map edits had been suspended in the wake of the notorious and high-profile edits to the map near Rawalpindi; since then edits to the map have required manual approval, which has created a massive backlog. “We believe that it is more fair to only say that if we do not have the capacity to review edits at roughly the rate they come in, we have to take a pause.” Via The Verge.

Previously: Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment; A Google Map Maker Roundup.

Approaching Ceres

Ceres

The Dawn spacecraft’s trajectory is slowly edging it closer to Ceres. This is one of a series of images of Ceres taken between April 24 and 25 from a distance of 8,500 kilometres. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Previously: At Ceres.

Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba

Detail from the 1966-1967 Official Highway Map of Manitoba

While looking for something else, I stumbled across the Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Ministry’s Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba site: a collection of PDF scans of dozens of highway maps of the province. The earliest is a 1926 map produced by the Winnipeg Tourist and Convention Bureau; the most recent is the B version of the 2010 Official Highway Map. Collectively they trace the development of the province’s road network: I got so very lost in this site watching the road network change from year to year — just as I did as a child, when I studied each new edition to see what had changed from the previous year. This is a weapons-grade hit of nostalgia for me.

Above, a detail from the 1966-1967 map, the first to use the style of map that I was familar with growing up in the 1970s.

Previously: Manitoba Historical Maps.

The Great Snake Weigh-in of 2015

Male Okeetee corn snake: 778 grams.Female checkered garter snake: 368 grams.Lucy the bullsnake: 1.537 kg

This month Jennifer and I started doing something we’ve been meaning to do since the fall of 2013: weigh all the snakes in our menagerie. It’s something neither of us has ever done before; we’d had vague ideas of the approximate weights of our various critters, but that’s about it.

Our method was pretty straightforward: tare the scale, stick the snake on it, and take its picture. Those of you who follow me on social media will have seen the photos already; I’ve assembled them into a photo album here.

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Review: My Real Children

Book cover: My Real Children My review of Jo Walton’s My Real Children is now up at AE. My Real Children came out a year ago, but it just won the Tiptree Award, which made doing the review more timely; AE’s review policy doesn’t limit itself to new releases in any event.

Rereading the book for this review was an interesting experience, as was writing the review. This is the kind of book that could generate several different reviews that each focused exclusively on a different subject. It wasn’t just that I was scratching the surface — I was scratching just one surface.

Taxonomic Changes to Crayfish, Swamp and Earth Snakes

I’m always afraid to check the CNAH website: there’s always some new study that renames or reclassifies everything. It’s been a while since the natricine snakes have been done over, though. A 2013 phylogenetic study of two North American natricine genera — the glossy and crayfish snakes (Regina) and the earth snakes (Virginia) — concludes that they’re not monophyletic. They split off two crayfish snakes and group them with black swamp snakes in a new genus, Liodytes, and split the earth snakes into two monotypic genera.

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‘1491’ Is Becoming a TV Series

Book cover: 1491 One of my favourite books, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, is being made into a documentary TV series. The book’s author, Charles C. Mann, confirmed on Twitter last week that principal photography had begun. There isn’t a lot of information out there yet. It’s being written and directed by Barbara Hager, whose Aarow Entertainment will be co-producing it with Animiki See Digital Production. Eight one-hour episodes are being filmed this year for broadcast on APTN in 2016.

1491 is a book-length debunking of a lot of shibboleths about the pre-Columbian Americas. It paints a picture of a heavily populated hemisphere filled with sophisticated societies that transformed the landscape around them. A TV version offers an opportunity for more people to have their heads explode, like mine did in 2006. (See also my review of its sequel, 1493.) Via Kottke.

Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment

Some embarrassment for Google Maps last week, as they were forced to apologize for an image of the Android mascot peeing on an Apple logo that turned up on the map near Rawalpindi in Pakistan. To say nothing of the phrase “Google review policy is crap” etched into nearby Takht Pari Forest. Both have since been removed. Boing Boing, the Guardian, The Verge.

To be fair to Google, crowdsourcing map data does have its pitfalls: OpenStreetMap has to deal with this sort of thing all the time. You have to have something in place to deal with bad-faith edits. None of the edits I’ve made to Google Maps went through without someone reviewing them, so I’m surprised that this could happen. That said, when you need your map updated fast (such as during natural disasters like yesterday’s earthquake in Nepal), it’s hard to beat crowdsourcing.

As always, it’s important to keep in mind that all online maps have their shortcomings.

Older Entries

Map of Canada Changes Depiction of Arctic Sea Ice
Valentina Lisitsa and Artists’ Social Capital
New Moon Maps
Chopin’s Preludes on a Pleyel
Space Maps: Ceres, Mars, Exoplanets
Back to Brontosaurus
Ecdysis 5
Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
Irwin’s Controversial Legacy
A Cometary Closeup
Charge Revealed in N.B. Python Case
Various and Sundry (Again)
Backbench Conservative Hijinks, and How to Respond to Them
At Ceres
Unruly Places (Off the Map)
Emily Garfield’s Map Art
Map Anniversaries
Nikon’s Astrophotography Camera
Daniel Reeve, Film Cartographer
Arrest, Charges in N.B. Python Case